I WAS 7 years old when my family first opened our home to foster children. My parents were in their early 40s and already had four children at home. They were somewhat typical for foster parents at that time: married, established, often people of faith. We had a total of 10 children in our home—two of whom were adopted—from 1988 until 1997. Fostering children was a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment and calling. As my mother would say, “God sets the lonely in families—but am I willing to let him set them in mine?”
This is a question that more Christians—particularly the oft-maligned Millennials—are asking themselves. They are examining both the sheer number of children growing up without families and scripture to see what it says about their faith. Taking their cue, and often their names, from James 1:27 (“look after orphans and widows in their distress”), groups in Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Virginia, and most recently the District of Columbia have committed to looking after these modern-day “orphans in their distress.”
According to the Administration for Children and Families, in 2012 there were 400,000 children in foster care nationwide. Of that number, 102,000 were waiting to be adopted. Only 52,000 children were adopted in 2012; at the end of 2011, 15 percent of youth in the system lived in group homes or institutions. What is most troub-ling is the number of youth who “age out” of the system every year without the support of a family. At the end of 2011, 11 percent, or 26,000 youth in the system, aged out. These youth are much more likely to experience homelessness, health problems, unemployment, incarceration, and other trouble later in life.
In Washington, D.C., there are about 1,300 children in the foster care system; 300 of them are on the waitlist for adoptive homes. Many are siblings, and many more are adolescents, past the ages when most families typically want to adopt.